More HMO red tape could deter investors
When it comes to developing the economy of Bath we have one asset more valuable than any other. It is the young, talented, enthusiastic, ambitious and energetic young people who will continually revitalise this city.
It has to be said they are sometimes a nuisance. They make a mess, they are noisy and they might have a bit more to drink on occasion than they should. But they bring excitement, understand about cutting-edge technology and still possess the optimism that so many olders have long lost.
Some of these people are students at our two universities or college, but many of them are a sometimes overlooked group – young working people who need to be looked after and provided with the support and encouragement which will see them stay in Bath, employed in the kind of jobs they want.
As well as a job they also need somewhere to live, which is ideally reasonably close to where they work so they can walk, cycle or take public transport instead of cluttering up our roads with still more cars.
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Currently, it is rare for those young workers to be able to buy a property, unusual for them to be able to rent a whole house and uncommon for them to be able to take a lease on a flat or apartment. Instead they need what you might call an entry level into the world of accommodation – a room in a shared house, what is technically referred to as a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs).
At the moment, only the larger of those houses is licensed by the council. But there is a move to impose regulations on all such houses. The reason for that is that it will make it easier to police, ensuring the bins are put out on the right day, and that complaints about noise are handled more speedily.
Naturally, residents of those areas which have most HMOs are very happy at the thought that there could be a reduction in the number of houses used in this way. Yet I would urge them to consider the consequences.
We fear additional red tape could put off investors from providing a much-needed source of accommodation which would restrict supply and drive up prices. There is a real danger that the sons and daughters of Bath families who would like to continue living and working in the place they were born and brought up just won't have anywhere to go. The risk is they will start to look elsewhere, taking their skills and enthusiasm with them.
By all means clamp down on bad landlords and poor behaviour. But instead of reaching for the red tape let's look at the big picture. We need young workers and they need somewhere to live. In the long term we might see more affordable housing being built, but for now a room in a shared house could be the difference between staying and going and for the rest of us, that could be the difference between economic success and failure.
Ian Bell, executive director, Bath Chamber of Commerce and the Initiative in B&NES